Forest and Water Programme

Debunking water-related forestry myths at Asia Pacific Forestry Week


Forest management decisions are important: afforestation is not necessarily an answer to addressing water questions; however, forest restoration and improving forest soils can be, according to forestry experts at "Forests and Water in Action", an event at Asia Pacific Forestry Week (APFW) in Clark, Philippines.

“There are parallel and deeply entrenched ‘popular narratives’… that often run counter to the consensus views of the forest hydrology scientific community”,  Don Gilmour, RECOFTC Fellow, told the group of more than 60 participants.

The event  discussed the important issue of managing forests for water-related ecosystem services, such as erosion control and providing high quality water. Specifically the event highlighted the scientific knowledge related to forest-water interactions; incentives for the sustainable management of forests and the water-related ecosystem services they provide; as well as, how forests and water fit within the new Sustainable Development Goal agenda.

Organized by FAO as part of the Serving People and Forests Stream of APFW, the event aimed to demystify the forest-water topic and to discuss the need for the sustainable forest management and policies that recognizes the multiple benefits of forests.

Don Gilmour, a Fellow for the Centre of People and Forests (RECOFTC) tried to debunk four prevalent “myths” in popular narratives: forests increase water yield, forests reduce floods, forests increase base flows and forests reduce erosion. Although there is truth to these statements, Gilmour emphasized that there are specific contexts or limitations to the truth. To date, these simplified statements have been broadly applied in policy and practice and have not always garnered the expected results.

Due to greater pressures on water resources,  growing populations, changes in land use and climate change, water is an increasingly important topic. Thomas Enters, Regional Technical Coordinator of UN-REDD (UNEP), stated that incentivizing local communities to sustainably manage their forests, including for water, is challenging. He reiterated that payments for environmental services is defined as a voluntary transaction where a well-defined service is purchased from a provider that can prove that the service is being provided (conditionality). Enters emphasized the importance of regular monitoring to ensure ecosystem services are actually being provided and improving, if applicable. “We need to get the science right to have conditionality,” Enters concluded.

Conditionality is why Victoria Gutierrez, Chief Science Officer of WeForest, is incorporating scientific research in reforestation projects that aim to improve the livelihoods of local communities. A project in the East Khasi Hills of the Meghalaya region of India aims to study the impact of reforestation of degraded forests on water quality and quantity. It is an interesting case study as Meghalaya is the wettest region on the planet, experiencing more than 11 000 millimetres of precipitation, but has two months of drought.

Elaine Springgay, Forestry Officer at FAO, introduced the Forests and Water Action Plan to the Asia-Pacific region, highlighting its objective to integrate forest and water-related science, policy and practice. She concluded that the complexity of the forest-water topic, there needs to be a better understanding of forest-water interactions within different contexts and at different scales, and that this understanding needs to inform policy and practice. She also called for greater cross-sectoral engagement, particularly between the forestry, water and agriculture sectors. “On 21 March, FAO will launch a new Forest and Water programme, providing support to countries who would like to meet the targets for Sustainable Development Goals 6 (water) and 15 (forests),” Springgay announced, inviting APFW participants to contribute to the Action Plan.


Read more about the Forests and Water Action Plan here.